THE GENIUS, jazz and joy of Dizzy Gillespie. Friends and fans will gather at Wolf Trap Saturday night to thank the trumpeter for a lifetime of great music. In the meantime, here's a look at some new albums and reissues by Dizzy and several of the musicians scheduled to perform at the tribute.
DIZZY GILLESPIE -- "Dizziest" (RCA Bluebird 5785-1RB). Culled from the mid to late '40s, these big-band recordings are mostly notable for two reasons: They reveal Gillespie's startling range, revolutionary technique and rhythmic aplomb; and they document his early attempts to expand and augment compositions essentially designed for a combo format. With the help of Tadd Dameron, John Lewis and George Russell (who played a key role in the exchange of ideas between Gillespie and the master Cuban percussionist Chano Pozo), the experiment yielded a number of jazz treasures. By the end of the decade, when the appetite for big-band music had waned considerably, Gillespie responded by cutting more novelty tunes like "Hey Pete! Let's Eat Mo' Meat," which were thought to be more commercial. Although these trifles and some instrumental blemishes are included here, such gems as "Night in Tunisia," "Cubana Be/Cubana Bop" and "Two Bass Hit" make this anthology indispensable.
JAMES MOODY -- "Something Special" (Novus 3004-1-N). Sorely under-recorded in recent years, saxophonist and flutist Moody returns here in fine form, beginning with a boppish alto improvisation on the chord changes to the same song that decades ago was his biggest hit: "I'm in the Mood for Love." Like everything else on the album, the tune sounds fresh and appealing, and not merely because it's newly arranged. Daring and spontaneity still pour through Moody's horn, and when he turns to the blues, as he does often on this solid quartet session, he can be very, very persuasive.
SONNY ROLLINS -- "The Quartets" (RCA Bluebird 5643-2RB). These long-out-of-print recordings from the early '60s find Rollins working closely with Jim Hall, arguably the finest jazz guitarist alive. For Rollins, these recordings were transitional: He had just returned from a two-year sabbatical, and both his performances and the repertoire hold few surprises. Still, the essence of his style -- a voluminous tone and his unconstrained improvisations -- frequently bring vitality to this collection of mostly standards. What's more, the album can be recommended for Hall's deft contributions alone.
CARMEN McRAE -- "Any Old Time" (Denon 33CY-1216). Relaxed, intimate and occasionally swinging, this CD features 13 tunes, basically an hour's worth of standards. In a warm, expressive voice, McRae unveiled several distinctive interpretations, including a lush "Have You Met Miss Jones?" a stately "Love Me Tender" and a slow, almost conversational "Any Old Time." Her approach to "Body and Soul" is more conventional but nevertheless quite moving, and veterans John Collins (guitar) and Clifford Jordan (tenor sax) add some nice touches to the accompaniment provided by McRae's present trio.
THE BENNY CARTER GROUP -- "Wonderland" (Pablo 2310-922) and
BENNY CARTER ALL STARS -- (Gazell GJ 1004). These star-studded sessions, recorded a decade apart, never quite jell, yet it hardly seems to matter as long as Carter's alto sax is in the foreground. His remarkable fluency and glowing tone light up every selection he appears on. Of the two recordings, the Gazell album, made in Europe last year, is the most cohesive. Among other things, it features some fine performances by cornetist Nat Adderley, vibist Red Norvo and bassist Red Mitchell. By contrast, "Wonderland" is more of a blowing session, a happy excuse to gather some great musicians in the same studio. On hand are Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis on tenor sax, Harry "Sweets" Edison on trumpet and Milt Jackson on vibes, among others. But too often one soloist merely follows another and the feeling of a band never really develops.
EDDIE GOMEZ -- "Discovery" (Columbia FC 40548). A long time coming, this is bassist Gomez's first album as a leader -- an imaginative and colorful fusion date, which features saxophonist Michael Brecker and drummer Steve Gadd. The most refreshing thing about this music is its intricate rhythms, which are a far cry from the simple backbeat that undermines so many fusion albums. "Me Two" and "Caribbean Morning" are vibrant examples of just how compatible Gomez and Gadd really are, how easily they exchange and interweave complex patterns. Electronic instruments add splashes of color here and there, but Brecker and Gomez are also featured in a bristling, straight ahead setting on "Puccini's Walk." Rounding out the album is the lovely bass solo titled "Scott David" and a tender reading of the first movement of Henry Eccles' "Cello Sonata in G Minor."